Wiedmer: UTC should have told the truth

Wiedmer: UTC should have told the truth

September 9th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

UTC Mocs logo

UTC Mocs logo


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Every University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football fan would likely agree that a lot went wrong from opening whistle to final horn in the Mocs' 31-21 loss to UT-Martin 12 days ago.

But the biggest wrong may have been committed in the minutes immediately after that defeat, when UTC coach Russ Huesman was asked why an expected starter never saw the field against the Skyhawks.

"[He] had a hamstring [injury]," Huesman replied. "They told us, 'Only in an emergency.' So, I hope he's better. We dressed a couple of guys today for emergency purposes and, really, he couldn't run. He would have been an emergency [position player] if we needed him."

Later, when John Frierson -- who covers the Mocs for this newspaper -- told the coach that he'd heard the player in question had been suspended, Huesman said, "Where would you hear that?"

Frierson: "I heard it."

Huesman: "How would you hear that? There's no way you could have heard that."

Frierson: "But is it true?"

Huesman: "No, he was hurt."

Now fast-forward to Saturday evening at the Georgia Dome, the Mocs' 42-14 rout of Georgia State just completed. Near the close of that press conference, Frierson -- having heard rumors that as many as five players had been suspended for the first six quarters of the season due to a violation of team rules, including the player he'd asked about after the UT-Martin loss _ had another question for the coach.

"Why didn't Terrell [Robinson] and Toyvian [Brand] play in the first half?," he asked.

Huesman: "Now that we're through this game, there were five of them that were suspended: Toy, Terrell, Will Sharpton, Kenny Huitt and Dean Haynes. And we're moving forward."

Frierson: "Everybody's good to go from this point on?"

Huesman: "We're moving forward and ready to roll."

It shouldn't be that easy to dismiss. An apology needs to come from someone soon. If an institution of higher learning such as UTC should stand for anything it's honesty and integrity. If professors and coaches should leave their students and athletes with any lifelong traits it should foremost be honesty and integrity.

That doesn't mean Huesman in particular or the athletic department in general should necessarily have come clean about the suspensions before the UT-Martin game.

As the fifth-year coach noted Sunday evening, "We're not trying to hide anything from the community. We were just trying to hide things from our opponents. I owe our football team the best opportunity to win."

But hiding something is not the same as lying about it. Until the question concerning why a particular player hadn't played against the Skyhawks was asked, UTC owed no one anything. But once broached, the question deserved an honest answer. Or at least something other than an outright lie.

Huesman could have said it was a coach's decision. End of story. He could have said -- as is usually done in these cases -- it was a violation of team rules. And if he truly remained concerned about how that information might impact Georgia State's preparation for the Mocs, he could have added that whether or not any or all of the five suspended players would see action for all or part of the game against the Panthers would depend on how they conducted themselves between now and then.

Talk about screwing up an opponent's game prep.

But that's not what Huesman said. He said the player in question was injured. Beyond that, when another member of the athletic department was asked about the situation prior to the Georgia State game, he replied, "You need to get your facts straight. It wasn't five or six players. It was one player. Period. The rest are hurt, just like we said."

And while Huesman insisted, "This was my decision," he also admitted that athletic director David Blackburn knew about it.

He further stated, "Our athletic department policy called for a suspension of six quarters." If that's true, then Blackburn also had to know that the story about the hamstring was untruthful, that more than a few folks outside the athletic department would soon know it was untruthful and that the rumors would begin to instantly fly, which they did.

"What else would I say?," Huesman said when asked why he'd fabricated the hamstring story. "Who would have thought we didn't play him for no reason? I'm trying to protect my players and my program."

No one's perfect. Not me, not you, not the preacher, baker or candlestick maker. Caught in an uncomfortable spot under pressure, we all say things we wish we could take back, things we would gladly change if given the chance.

Nor is Huesman wrong to say, "I don't think everybody needs to know everything that goes on with my football team."

This isn't about knowing what went on with five players, though. It's about what went on with the adults shaping the lives of the entire UTC team. It's about those adults who should have found a better way to handle a difficult situation than to fabricate an injury, or two, or five.

"We're moving forward," said Huesman, and judging from the Mocs' victory over Georgia State, they are, at least on the field.

But off the field, where adults are supposed to know better, the school's reputation for telling the truth just went full-speed in reverse.

Email Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.